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Johnson & Johnson’s CEO on building trust for a coronavirus vaccine

July 9, 2020, 7:21 PM UTC

Happy Thursday, readers.

I wanted to highlight a few more stories from our extraordinary (and first-ever virtual) Brainstorm Health conference which wrapped up Wednesday afternoon.

You can scroll through all of the coverage here. Earlier this morning, Fortune CEO Alan Murray highlighted one of the most fascinating sessions, a conversation with Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky on the race for a coronavirus vaccine. J&J is among the front-runners for developing a successful candidate.

“We are taking what normally takes five to seven years, and doing it in five to seven months,” said Gorsky in a session moderated by Dr. David Agus, adding that, “A vaccine, while a very critical element to bringing an end to this pandemic, is part of the puzzle.”

Questions from Brainstorm Health attendees—which Gorsky answered in a followup with me—highlighted those nuances. And an issue that stuck out to me is the rampant vaccine skepticism across America.

“In addition to the work we have to do on science, we’ll have to put an equal effort forward on eduction to the public on vaccinations and this vaccine,” Gorsky told me in a post-session chat. “We have had conversations with governments, even working with the distribution systems to make this a seamless process to that end consumer so that they have confidence, so that the have safety information and data that makes them trust it.”

On top of that, Gorsky says that any pricing for a successful (or semi-successful) coronavirus vaccine will require nuance given “a very unique situation.”

“We want to go for not-for-profit prices to maximize access but that requires work with the U.S. and European governments and other entities like the Gates Foundation.”

Make sure to read all of our coverage from a very unique Brainstorm Health. And read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Apple, Stanford are speeding up medical discoveries with tech. Some more prominent discussions from our Wednesday conference sessions—Apple's vice president of health Dr. Sumbul Desai and Stanford University School of Medicine dean Dr. Lloyd Minor discussed the role of virtual clinical trials, including tech such as the Apple Watch, in public health. "Enrolling over 400,000 people in an entirely virtual clinical trial over the course of eight months—I mean, who would have thought that was possible?" said Minor, referring to the Apple Heart study about measuring irregular heartbeats. "It yielded some very valuable results." Desai added that the most important questions about digital health tech like Appel's are, "is it grounded in evidence? And then how do we take that and make it usable?" (Fortune)


Merck, Pfizer announce $1 billion fund to boost antibiotic development. Drug giants such as Merck and Pfizer on Thursday announced a $1 billion fund to prop up struggling antibiotic drug developers—perhaps an implicit recognition that preventive medicine for infectious diseases should be priority in the midst of a pandemic. The fund, led by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, and supported by other big pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis, is meant to temporarily counteract a difficult business environment for antibiotic-focused biotechs, which lack both an effective incentive structure and are brought down by fears of antibiotic resistance (the latter being a Catch-22 since developing novel antibiotics could address that very issue). (Reuters)


Death is a lagging indicator. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there are now more than 3 million reported cases of coronavirus in the U.S. These vary greatly by region, and states which took early reopening measures have fared much more poorly than those that didn't, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. But one argument that's taken hold among certain groups is that cases don't matter, especially as the median age of those being infected has dropped, and those people may be fine or asymptomatic. The thing is—case counts are a leading indicator. Hospitalizations and deaths are lagging ones. Just because it appears the death rate is slowing down despite rising cases doesn't mean that same reality will be true in the following two or three weeks. And that appears to be exactly what states like Texas are experiencing right now. The mantra of maintaining social distance, wearing and mask, and washing your hands still holds true. (KFF)


Professors, universities find creative solutions to keep international students from getting deported, by Michal Lev-Ram

The latest and largest coronavirus Chapter 11 filingsby Lucinda Shen

Hong Kong's big chillby Clay Chandler

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